I've never been hesitant to engage with Robert Guerrero.
When he initially piped up last winter with claims that Floyd Mayweather Jr. wanted no part of him because Guerrero was "the guy that can hurt him and he knows it," I respectfully asked that he clam up until his resume provided more champion-baiting leverage.
And when he threw a cheesy interim welterweight belt across his shoulder in July and claimed a points win over Selcuk Aydin made him the first Mexican- American with crowns in four weight classes, I quickly suggested he take a stroll through the trophy room over at Golden Boy Promotions.
Specifically, the wing housing the six straps won by the guy with his name on the door.
Still, in spite of my occasionally less-than-celebratory take on his achievements, I'll give the "Ghost" full credit for being a professional. And after I contacted his ace publicist, Mario Serrano, for an interview a few days back, Guerrero was nothing if not cooperative when it came to answering questions.
No smart-aleck remarks. No payback jabs for past opinions. No signs of a lingering grudge.
All the signs that indicate he's a big boy who understands we all have a job to do, and that - in spite of what some fans might believe - nowhere on the list of duties for a columnist is the word "cheerleader."
It's refreshing, and I applaud him for it.
Speaking of applause, he deserves another round for his latest bold step toward the elite at 147 pounds - a challenge of former IBF/WBC champion Andre Berto that's scheduled for Nov. 24 in his big California backyard at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
Whether he's good enough in his new division to pick off a guy who's had nothing but title fights for the last four years is a fair question. But what looks beyond query two weeks in advance is this - the winner of the fight should be declared the WBC's full-fledged world champion.
Do I think either of the two guys could beat today's belt-holder - the aforementioned Mr. Mayweather - over 12 rounds without using a gun or a bat? No. But given the incumbent's apparent disinterest in defending the laurels against a willing contender, there's really no other fair choice.
Guerrero, rightly or wrongly, is the organization's top contender by virtue of his win over Aydin. And, according to its own rules, Mayweather has already positioned himself for a title strip by failing to even one time risk the belt he won from Victor Ortiz 14 months ago.
According to Article 3, Section 1 of the rules and regulations of the World Boxing Council, a champion "shall defend the title in mandatory or voluntary defenses at least three (3) times a year, unless a written exception or extension is granted by the WBC in its sole discretion. Therefore, a champion must defend his title every one hundred twenty (120) unless otherwise permitted by the WBC in its sole discretion. Upon winning a title, a champion must defend the title within 90 to 120 days as ordered by the WBC, and thereafter every 120 days, in each case unless otherwise ordered or permitted by the WBC in its sole discretion."
Has Mayweather made a behind-closed-doors appeal to Jose Sulaiman to keep his legitimate reign intact? I don't know. But what I do know, short of a declaration to the contrary by Sulaiman or an underling - incidentally, a request for a statement from the WBC for this column went unanswered - is that Guerrero has done everything that seems necessary to have his dubious reign promoted.
He's not the best welterweight in my eyes, but he deserves to be called "champ."
On those and other topics, here's the transcript of my Guerrero interview:
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Assess Berto as a fighter. What in particular does he do - good or bad - that you notice when you see him live or on video? Is he especially similar to or reminiscent of anyone you've fought?
Robert Guerrero: Berto has fast hands and he's an explosive puncher. He does have some flaws, though, that I'm not going to talk about because I don't want to give up my game plan. I can't think of any fighters that I've fought in the past that resemble Berto because he's a bigger guy and this is my second fight at welterweight. That being said, I don't think he's been in the ring with someone like me either.
LF: He tested positive before his last fight, which automatically makes people wonder if he'd been using something for much of his career, and only recently got caught. What is your view? Does it concern you at all? Is it a psychological advantage to be his first opponent after his failed test?
RG: There's always a concern when you're fighting someone who's tested positive for steroids as Berto has, but USADA is going to be testing both of us, and I personally got word from California State Athletic that they are going to step up the testing as well. So if he's going to cheat, he'll get caught, but I don't think he's going to risk ruining his career. I'm not worried about it at all. As far as the psychological advantage, all I can say is I'm always ready to go and he's going to have to deal with a fighter that's going to be motivated for other reasons, not the fact that he's going to be coming off a failed drug test.
LF: You've had one welterweight fight after a career at 135 or below. How much different did punches from a 147-pounder feel? Any different than you'd expected? How do you think Berto compares to Aydin as a puncher and an overall fighter? Is he a significantly bigger challenge?
RG: The punches are harder at welterweight because the guys are bigger but I proved I can take a punch at this weight. Aydin is a different type of fighter because he has a come-forward type style. Berto is more of a boxer with faster hands. They both possess different challenges, but I feel I can counter any attack.
LF: Are you the best welterweight in the world? If not, who is? And who would you have to beat in order to make you No. 1? Does Berto make you the best?
RG: Right now according to the boxing critics, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is considered the best welterweight in the world followed by Manny Pacquiao. But I feel I'm the best welterweight in the world and in due time I'll prove it. Berto is an explosive fighter and he isn't a two-time welterweight champion for nothing. He's definitely one of the best in the division and I'll have to be on my A game to beat him.
LF: You won the Aydin fight decisively on the scorecards and received good reviews. Were you satisfied with the performance? What was the one most glaring that you thought, "OK, I need to work on this"?
RG: Aydin was a tough fighter who brought a lot of punching power and pressure to the table. I feel I could have boxed better but I had a little ring rust after being off for a year and a half. People forget Aydin was the mandatory challenger to fight Floyd and Berto, but they chose not to fight him because he's a dangerous fighter. I stepped up and took on the challenge to show the world I'm willing to fight the No. 1 guy that no one wanted to fight. I did it by jumping up two weight classes after a year and a half layoff when I was avoided by all the champions at 135. Ninety-nine percent of fighters will never do what I did, so yeah I'm satisfied with the win.
LF: What was the main difference you felt between fighting at welter and in the other classes? Did you feel stronger? How did it impact your energy? Will your camp for this fight be any different, based on what you've learned?
RG: First off, when I fight at welterweight I don't have to diet down to make the weight so I feel stronger. Bob Santos does my diet and we learned some things from the last fight that we are going to do different in this fight. There were some minor adjustments that were made and I'm feeling better than ever.
LF: It's been reported that your purse will be $1 million for the first time. Other than the money itself, what does that mean to you? Does it give you a feeling of accomplishment? Do you feel you're being paid on the level that you deserve?
RG: For me it's all about my legacy and not the money that drives me. If you keep winning then the money will be there. It's nice to be in the position I'm in now.
LF: You've not been shy about calling Mayweather out and claiming that you deserve a shot at him. Has there been any direct contact from either him or his people - up or down? If he doesn't react, do you expect the WBC to make this a full title fight? Do you honestly believe he's afraid of you, or that he simply doesn't think it's a worthwhile business option?
RG: I'm not even thinking about Mayweather. My whole focus is on beating Berto. If the WBC wants to make me the full champion, then that will be the right thing to do since Floyd isn't fighting, but I'm not concerned about it. I've always said I'm here to fight the best and Berto is the best possible opponent that's available.
LF: If that fight never happens, what are the others you want to make? We spoke a few years ago and you said you wanted Pacquiao. Is that still the case. What exactly happened in terms of a Bradley fight? Was there a formal offer that was made and rejected?
RG: Like I said, I'm here to fight the best, whether it's Mayweather or Pacquiao or whoever. I was willing to fight Bradley but he and his trainer didn't want the fight. Everyone was on board except them, and that was public knowledge. The fact of the matter is I've had to move up multiple weight classes because every time I get in the mandatory position, the champion at the time never wants to fight me. When you're avoided as I've been, you have to do extraordinary feats, to get a big fight.
LF: How would a fight between you and Mayweather, or you and Pacquiao, unfold? Who do you think would win if they ever fought? Why? Do you think they will?
RG: I'm not concerned about Mayweather or Pacquiao, I got Berto to deal with right now. If Mayweather and Pacquiao ever fight I'm picking Floyd to win a unanimous decision. But like I said earlier, I feel I can beat anyone in the world at welterweight, including Mayweather and Pacquiao.
LF: Who's the toughest, or best, opponent you've ever had? Are the potential foes we've talked about at welterweight bigger challenges than what you've had?
RG: Aydin was the toughest opponent so far because I jumped up two weight classes and had to get accustomed to a weight class I've never fought in. You mentioned the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, so yes I imagine they'll be a tougher challenge then Aydin.
LF: Clearly, you've had out of the ring challenges that most fighters haven't had. How are things going with your wife? Do you keep fighting, in part, to publicize her and make sure all her needs are addressed? How much longer do you see yourself going?
RG: My wife is going great and I'm always going to be an ambassador in the fight against cancer. When my body says it's time to hang 'em up, then I'll do so then. Right now I feel young and strong so time will tell.
LF: When your career is over, what needs to be accomplished before you'll be satisfied with it?
RG: I want to fight the best pound-for-pound fighters in my division to be satisfied. Until then I'm going to keep striving to get in the ring with those guys.
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This week's title-fight schedule:
FRIDAY IBO featherweight title - Singapore, Singapore Daud Yordan (champion) vs. Choi Tseveenpurev (No. 22 contender) Yordan (29-2, 23 KO): First title defense; Three fights in Singapore, all two- round KOs Tseveenpurev (36-5, 24 KO): First title fight; Tenth fight outside United Kingdom (6-3) Fitzbitz says: "Incumbent champion has hung in with division's best and fared well against next tier of opponents, which should be enough to get through a close initial title defense." Yordan by decision
WBA featherweight title - Singapore, Singapore Chris John (champion) vs. Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (No. 7 contender) John (47-0-2, 22 KO): Seventeenth title defense; Second fight in Singapore (1-0) Piriyapinyo (44-0, 27 KO): First title fight; Held multiple regional belts since 2004 Fitzbitz says: "John has been an unheralded elite against largely unknown opposition, and, while the margins of victory are narrowing, he should retain his status here." John by decision
SATURDAY IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles - Altona, Germany Wladimir Klitschko (champion) vs. Mariusz Wach (No. 15/16/14/15 contender) Klitschko (58-3, 50 KO): Thirteenth IBF/IBO title defense; Unbeaten in Germany since 2003 (13-0) Wach (27-0, 15 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight in Germany (3-0) Fitzbitz says: "Wach is 6-foot-7 and Klitschko is fighting without his recently deceased trainer, but that's about the only reason for drama in what looks like another competitive mismatch." Klitschko in 6
IBF bantamweight title - Los Angeles, Calif. Leo Santa Cruz (champion) vs. Victor Zaleta (unranked) Santa Cruz (21-0-1, 12 KO): Second title defense; Tenth fight in California (9-0) Zaleta (20-2-1, 10 KO): Second title fight; Lost WBO title shot at 115 in 2011 Fitzbitz says: "Santa Cruz is a punishing body puncher, which should pay significant and immediate dividends against an opponent less accustomed to shots at 118 pounds." Santa Cruz in 8
IBO super middleweight title - Kempton Park, South Africa Thomas Oosthuizen (champion) vs. Fulgencio Zuniga (unranked) Oosthuizen (20-0-1, 13 KO): Sixth title defense; Sixteenth fight in Kempton Park (14-0-1) Zuniga (25-5-1, 22 KO): Sixth title fight; Held IBO title at 168 (2007, zero defenses) Fitzbitz says: "South African slugger is being prepped for a star turn in New York and should stay busy, and look impressive, in last Madison Square Garden hurdle." Oosthuizen in 5
Vacant IBO super flyweight title - Kempton Park, South Africa Gideon Buthelezi (No. 15 contender) vs. Edrin Dapudong (unranked) Buthelezi (12-3, 4 KO): Fourth title fight; Held IBO titles at 105 and 108 pounds (2010-11, zero defenses) Dapudong (27-4, 15 KO): Second title fight; First fight in South Africa Fitzbitz says: "Traveling Filipino enters the bout on a win streak, but he's not beaten anything remotely resembling a contender - and barely any .500 fighters. Good enough for the local." Buthelezi by decision
WBC super bantamweight title - Los Angeles, Calif. Abner Mares (champion) vs. Anselmo Moreno (unranked) Mares (24-0-1, 13 KO): First title defense; Held IBO and IBF titles at 118 (2010-11, one defense) Moreno (33-1-1, 12 KO): Twelfth title fight; Holds WBA title at 118 (2008- present, 11 defenses) Fitzbitz says: "Moreno's slickness reminds some of Pernell Whitaker, but, at 122, Mares seems capable of grinding down even the most sublime opponents on the way to big fights." Mares by decision
WBO light heavyweight title - Los Angeles, Calif. Nathan Cleverly (champion) vs. Shawn Hawk (unranked) Cleverly (24-0, 11 KO): Fourth title defense; Second fight in United States Hawk (23-2-1, 17 KO): First title fight; Second fight in California Fitzbitz says: "Cleverly isn't and might never be a household name, but he didn't get brought to L.A. and put on this card to get by a fighter with as limited as resume as Hawk's." Cleverly in 8
Last week's picks: 3-0 Overall picks record: 441-149 (74.7 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @fitzbitz.